Saturday, March 22, 2008

millions of colours

Today is Holi. One year ago I spent it on the 17th floor of my apartment looking down wistfully.. feeling very alone and left out while it seemed a whole country was having an enormous 3 Stooges slapstick doped-up fall-about mess in a watercolour paint box. 'Take *that* Grandma!' A free-for-all - a giant laying on of the hands - or slapping on of the hands.. on everything, no holds barred, bodies that were off limits have one happy day where the craving for touch is more than satisfied I would say!

OK.. a lot has changed.. but still I can't really play Holi. My new family is protective and keeping me away from the cancerous colours and rash causing powders and dirty water... so I still feel like I am locked in my ivory fish smelling tower wishing I could let down my hair and clamber free. We'll see what happens as the morning progresses.

We have had Gagan's father staying with us from Delhi. As my Mum puts it - my 'father out-of-law'. Now I have always had a confidence about parents... or rather my ability to 'charm' them shall we say. Perhaps our moving away from relatives and my missing being around people of other generations always made me rather enjoy those interactions. I speak that language! It comforts me and sends me back to childhood evenings where my parent's friends would come for dinner and I would sit and listen to their conversation for hours - much preferring that to hanging out with any other kids that were around. Fitting in was *not* my strong suit.

So it's something I'm not normally concerned about.... in Firangistan**. Here it's a little more intimidating. I must preface though by saying how truly out of character this has been. Now any normal Indian family would have a conniption fit if I showed up with their handsome eligible son. Who wants their eldest child in their mid-20's to arrive at the door hand in hand with a white girl 13 years older! It's a stretch - even where I come from. But this family has been atypically phenomenal. It started with the attitude of the patriarch of the family who has completely trusted Gagan's judgement - whatever misgivings he may have had himself - and then the other's have just fallen in to that same welcoming warm excited way of being.

I know how lucky I am. This could have been really difficult.. if not a deal breaker, though knowing Gagan I think not. But I feel very lucky and embraced. It's quite overwhelming at times. I'm not used to getting calls from relatives I don't know being so sweet and kind and interested on the phone. I can feel how genuine it all is. And gifts were brought to me, jewelry and clothes... special things.

As Gagan has been working we have been sharing quite a bit of time together - time to learn about each other and our families and backgrounds. It's been nice. We talk about movies and food and the past. Good things to think about... especially food. He makes an awesome cup of tea ... and with the homemade cake all the way from family in Delhi it feels like we could be anywhere - sharing nice tastes and conversation.

I'm always aware how strange and foreign I must seem. At times it's like I'm the kid on the special bus, the ancient decrepit geriatric with infinite special needs and different routines. My stomach issues mean I still can't eat spicy or fried food - something that didn't cause a problem back in my old life in LA - but here it causes, not amazement, but great pity. I want to remind everyone that spicy food was only a rare thing in my regular diet anyway. I would eat from a wide and varied palette - foods from around the globe. Continental, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Cuban, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Korean, Spanish, French and my favourite - Japanese.... a vast array of seasonings and flavours - that my friends would tease as I ooh and ahh over. To many Indians however, there are only two kinds of foods - indian and 'bland'.

I liken it to our computer monitors in a way. When you first get your new computer home and excitedly pull it out of its packing, pushing away the annoying polystyrene chips that stubbornly stick to the hairs on your arm.. and you place it on the desk, plug in the monitor and get the thing humming happily, it's not long before you want to make sure your picture is looking as good as it can. The options you can choose offer you anywhere from the old redundant 256 colours (um.. WHO uses that?) to the magical sounding 'millions of colours'... so you don't hesitate to click on that one. This is where I think we are alike with taste. Somewhere in those millions of colours... right at the very top end of the spectrum... in the brightest whites.. are all the hot spices. The curries and chillies from around the world that make your nose run, your mouth and throat burn, your eyes water and your skin break out into a sweat as you panic and notice that the water you just drank is making it worse as it laughingly cascades down your throat carrying all the spices with it to dance their merry Day of the Dead dance along your tender tissues.

Those who live up in the world of the whites.. for them the experience is different. All ingredients are enhanced by the holy Chili and they are atune to its subtleties.. perhaps seeing so many hues of white it is like a rainbow of shimmering crystals - a technicolor dreamplate. But the sacrifice they make is that it's harder for them to taste all those myriads of other colours bursting along the culinary rainbow. Tastebuds are tweaked to "superhot" and everything else just rolls onto the tongue, knocks hopefully at the door, sees the disapproving look and turns sadly to throw itself suicidaly into the sacrificial unsatisfied gullet. Or worse... just be left alone on the plate never to partake of the great game.

So I sit in my colourful world, enviably staring at the sun on occasion. Blinded and wishing I had strong sunglasses and a stronger stomach. And every so often I am forced to defend my rather culture-less culture (but it's mine no less) and suggest that perhaps the food isn't bland - but that maybe we all have different senses of taste.

Hmm... I rather digressed.. in a Ronnie Corbett sort of way! This post went all over the place. I had in mind some other things. Oh well.. they will have to wait. I'm overdue for some bland breakfast and it's Holi after all. I want to look down 6 floors and see what's happening!

**Firangistan is a term I love Gagan using to describe the west. Us outsiders are all firangs here - a term that means foreigners, but mostly used for those of us of the pale variety - its a bit like gaijin.

1 comment:

Ravi said...

Wishing You & Your Family A Very Happy & Fun-Filled Holi :)

On a side note, I don't play holi, but I do wish everyone to play a "clean" holi, every year ;)

Take care!